Next season of Downton Abbey will be last

LONDON (AFP) - The sixth season of British television series Downton Abbey will be its last, producers said Thursday, bringing an end to the hit drama followed by millions around the world.

"Inevitably there comes a time when all shows should end and Downton is no exception," said Gareth Neame, managing director at Carnival Films and executive producer of the show, which is now in production.

The final season is slated to air later this year.

"We wanted to close the doors of Downton Abbey when it felt right and natural for the storylines to come together and when the show was still being enjoyed so much by its fans."

The period drama, which follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th century, averaged a weekly audience of 11 million viewers in Britain alone.

In the past five years, it has also become "one of the UK's biggest ever drama exports", according to Carnival Films and Britain's ITV channel, which commissioned the series.

A critical and commercial success - and a cult hit in the United States - the programme has been broadcast in more than 100 countries, including Australia, Russia and China.

Downton writer Julian Fellowes said: "The Downton journey has been amazing for everyone aboard."

Michael Edelstein, president at NBCUniversal International Television Production, said: "Downton Abbey is nothing short of a global cultural phenomenon."

He said the series would be "a beacon of British creativity that will live on for decades to come".

The fifth season of the show, which started last year, had 8.4 million viewers on its first episode.